I come from a family of entrepreneurs and travelers. My grandfather, the son of Arab and British immigrants, was born and grew up in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. As a young adult, my great grandfather moved to Ethiopia, a land he viewed as a place of opportunity. While in Ethiopia, he began to build a life, met his wife and started a family. My grandfather, my namesake, spent his childhood traveling between Dire Dawa, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi for school. Through hard work, grit and entrepreneurship, my grandfather immigrated to the United States where he built his own structural engineering and architecture firm.
I spent my childhood hearing stories about East Africa. Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and Nairobi were frequent cities discussed during storytime around my grandparents’ kitchen table. Never did my grandfather think that a grandson of his would be drawn back into the lands of his childhood, a place I now view as a land of opportunity, just like my great grandfather did. My journey to Ethiopia was not direct and it took me a few years to realize this was where I wanted to be. However, each step along the way prepared me and equipped me to become a member of the RENEW team.
After graduating from college with degrees in political science and Arabic, I moved to Jordan for a year to learn Arabic and live in a culture far different from my own. During that time, I learned the importance of building mutual respect, engaging with different cultures and valuing others despite differences in faith, worldviews and life experiences. More importantly, these experiences opened my eyes to different ways of viewing history. Historical events shaped the identities and passions of my Arab friends in powerful ways. It is through the lens of past events that they view current events. I never knew one could interpret the world so differently.
While living with my Palestinian refugee roommate in Jordan, I would turn on Sky News every night during dinner. Whatever the news, I would ask him “shoo raiek,” meaning “what do you think?” This simple question would launch us into hours-long conversations and debates far more valuable than any university Middle Eastern history class I took. I found these conversations so exhilarating, even if they were sometimes offensive to me or to my country. These conversations taught me empathy and compassion, and they drove my interest in living and working outside the United States.
Early in my career, I was eager to get back to the developing world. I struggled with the roots of traditional foreign aid models that seemed to breed dependence rather than empowerment. I wondered what it would look like to provide people with the tools and capital to build their own lives and businesses on their own journeys to self-reliance. This is the only true outcome of economic empowerment.
I never knew a place like RENEW existed, but when it was introduced to me, I knew it was the company and mission I had been longing for. To provide the tools, capital and knowledge to people in the developing world to build themselves out of poverty and provide opportunities for their peers and communities through entrepreneurship was central to my own developing vision. RENEW does just that. I now spend my days and weeks knowing that I have contributed to RENEW’s powerful mission of building Small and Medium Enterprises into market leaders, job creators and problem solvers. Just as it was so many years ago for my great grandfather, I believe that Ethiopia– and East Africa, more broadly– remains a land of opportunity ripe with economic potential and alive with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.